May 13th, 2012
01:07 PM ET

Across country, black pastors weigh in on Obama's same-sex marriage support

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Washington (CNN) - Addressing his large, mostly black congregation on Sunday morning, the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith did not mince words about where he stood on President Barack Obama's newly announced support for same-sex marriage: The church is against it, he said, prompting shouts of "Amen!" from the pews.

And yet Smith hardly issued a full condemnation of the president.

"We may disagree with our president on this one issue," Smith said from the pulpit of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington. "But we will keep him lifted up in prayer. ... Pray for President Barack Obama."

And Smith said there were much bigger challenges facing the black community - "larger challenges that we have to struggle with" - bringing his full congregation to its feet, with many more amens.

Days after Obama announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, pastors across the country offered their Sunday-morning opinions on the development, with the words of black pastors - a key base of support for Obama in 2008, that is also largely opposed to gay marriage - carrying special weight in a presidential election year.But black pastors were hardly monolithic in addressing Obama's remarks.

In Baltimore, Emmett Burns, a politically well-connected black minister who said he supported Obama in 2008, held an event at Rising Sun Baptist Church to publicly withdraw support from the president over Obama's same-sex marriage support.

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"I love the president, but I cannot support what he has done," Burns said at the church.

In an interview with CNN, Burns predicted that Obama's support for legalized same-sex marriage would lead to his defeat in November.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, an influential black pastor in New York City, did not endorse Obama's views but denounced those who are ready to "watch others be discriminated against, marginalized, and literally hated in the name of God."

"Our God is love," he said.

And like Smith in Washington, plenty of black ministers talked about distinguishing between opposition to same-sex marriage and views about Obama.

"I don't see how you cannot talk about it," the Rev. Tim McDonald, based in Atlanta, said earlier this week. "I have to. You can say I'm opposed to it (same-sex marriage), but that doesn't mean I'm against the president."

Though African-Americans provided Obama with record support in 2008, they are also significantly more likely to oppose same-sex marriage than are whites. That may be because black Americans are more likely to frequently attend church than white Americans.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted in April found that 49% of African-Americans oppose legalized same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who support it. Among whites, by contrast, Pew found that 47% supported gay marriage, while 43% opposed it.

African-American pastors have been prominent in the movement to ban same-sex marriage. In North Carolina, black leaders helped lead the successful campaign for a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and domestic partnerships.

In California, 70% of African-Americans supported Prop 8, the 2008 state gay marriage ban, even though 94% of black voters in California backed Obama.

McDonald, who founded a group called the African-American Ministers Leadership Council, says he opposes same-sex marriage, but that he is more concerned about issues such as health care, education and jobs.

But he says more black pastors are talking about same-sex marriage than ever before. "Three years ago, there was not even a conversation about this issue," McDoland says. "There wasn't even an entertainment of a conversation about this."

In Atlanta, at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church - where Martin Luther King Jr. got his start - the Rev. Ralph Warnock addressed the president's remarks near the end of his sermon.

"The president is entitled to his opinion," Warnock said. "He is the president of the United States, not the pastor of the United States."

Warnock said that there is a place for gays in the church, and that "we don't have to solve this today."

Black churchgoers on Sunday appeared split on same-sex marriage, though many of those opposed to it said they still supported Obama.

"It's a human rights issue, not a gay issue. All people that pay taxes should get ... the same privileges and rights," said Terence Johnson, a congregant at Salem Bible Church in Atlanta.

At Shiloh Baptist in Washington, Shauna King said she does not support same-sex marriage, but that she respects the president's decision on it.

"I think he was very honest in what he was saying and personally he decided to do that," said the 38-year-old mother of two. "As individuals, we all have to make that decision for ourselves."

"I believe it speaks to what America is," she said. "That we all have different views and are respected for our views individually."

Black opposition to same-sex marriage has dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2008, Pew found that 63% of African-Americans opposed gay marriage, 14 percentage points higher than the proportion who expressed opposition this year.

On Friday, a handful of black leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and former NAACP leader Julian Bond, released a letter supporting Obama's position on same-sex marriage but expressing respect for those who disagree.

"The president made clear that his support is for civil marriage for same-sex couples, and he is fully committed to protecting the ability of religious institutions to make their own decisions about their own sacraments," the letter said.

"There will be those who seek to use this issue to divide our community," it continued. "As a people, we cannot afford such division."

But the letter itself was an implicit acknowledgement of discord within the African-American church community on gay marriage.

Black pastors who preach in favor of same-sex marriage know they may pay a price if they take Obama's position, says Bishop Carlton Pearson.

The Chicago-based black minister says he lost his church building and about 6,000 members when he began preaching that gays and lesbians were accepted by God.

"That's the risk that people take," he told CNN. "A lot of preachers actually don't have a theological issue. It's a business decision. They can't afford to lose their parishioners and their parsonages and salaries."

Pearson navigates the tension between the Bible's calls for holiness and justice this way: "I take the Bible seriously, just not literally," he says. "It's more important what Jesus said about God than what the church says about Jesus."

In Obama's interview with ABC this week, in which he announced his personal support for same-sex marriage, the president talked about squaring his decision with his personal religious faith.

"We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others," Obama said, referring to his wife, Michelle.

"But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule," he said. "Treat others the way you would want to be treated."

- CNN’s John Blake, Chris Boyette, Meridith Edwards, Dan Merica and Stephanie Siek contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Gay marriage • Politics

soundoff (3,700 Responses)
  1. Zeno B

    It's racism from the pulpit, hallelulia. Black people haven't been this low since African blacks rounded them up and sold them into slavery.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Robert

      not racism. MORALS!

      May 13, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Catherine

      Amen.unfortunatelly, they rather have a black as president who principles they don't agree with, then to loose the white house of a white man..

      May 15, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  2. Igle

    Gay Marriages

    Let's reduce politics, faith base churches and the English language to plain talk. And let us reason together! During my/your life time, fear and ignorance have been key drives for most elections. Most people have been grounded in the understanding that a male and female represent a universal law required for reproduction. No faith can denied this fact. History will prove gay people have been a part of most society since the beginning of time. Our government tells us they require our birth data., race etc to determine funding :). I wonder what the new forms will list for this situation?

    Now comes the corruption of a word that speaks to two definitions of marriage! I believe it was Senator Monahan who coined the term “minority” because he knew that someday every ethic group will become a minority. I believe my gay brothers and sisters would have received their rights sooner had they selected a different word for their union. I am in favor of gay rights, it's the word marriage, that I believe people are having trouble with, not gays.


    May 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      "Gay brothers and sisters" are but sodomizers! They spew revulsiveness disorders outside of the marriage ring giving much rise to STD's! It is true that hetero-ists sometimes do sin in the actions of sodomy which is a vile and wicked malignancy of all social constructs that endorse the sodomizers' wants and wills all for but a few moments of pleasure and then comes one's thoughts of doing the abomidable Act of sodomy! Instead of knowing it was wrong to do, these sodomizers tend to show hatred to God and all God's godly people because of the sodomite Acts! Sodomizers need the support of other sodomites in order to quelch their bitterness for doing such vile Acts against God's Will!

      May 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      The transmission of STDs is lowest among lesbians. That's obviously god's way of telling all women they should be lesbian, right?

      May 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ johnfrichardson

      Your attempts to make the square peg fit the found hole is a quaint reminder of what liberal minds tend to do whenever they want to side-step the real issue(s)!

      May 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  3. Billy Davis

    My Pastor didn't utter a word about it. I find it laughable that these so called men of God have such a huge voice about LGBT issues but says very little about the crime and fatherless babies in the black community. Further, I've learned that those Pastors that speaks the loudest about condemning gays are a lot of times themselves gay. Does Eddie Long ring a bell. I say live and let live. If a gay person wants to get married so what. It does not affect my life in any way.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  4. judy

    the president did the right thing this is about the 14th amendment. Keep church out of it. Intorerance like that displayed by rand paul is all the republican party seems to be able to do. They keep whitteling away at our rights one at a time. So do your religious thing but when they start telling you what religion you will be allowed to worship under or what school you can send your kids to then or what perscription you can take . Be prepared. They lable everyone. If your not in favor of the war your unpatriotic. If you agree with anything the president does your a libral If you are tolerant of other religions you are unchristian. And if they say it enough people will believe them. And while they are laying down this smoke screen they are ripping the middle class off left and right.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • g.c.kells

      The problem is that marriage is a religious ceremony. If we are to be fair it should be made clear that NO marriage is recognized or defined by the state. The only thing the state should regulate or define is the legal contract between two consenting adults to form a civil union, and that should be made available to any two consenting adults regardless of gender. Marriage should be left to the church. Once the state recognized a religious ceremony as a legal contract, the separation of church and state went out the window.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      You're right, kells, but what can be done about it now?

      May 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      @ g.c.kells

      True words will never be spoken as are yours so written and I commend you in your witt's aummation of "out the window" semantics!

      May 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • mrpbnh

      The ONLY reason he came out with support is for votes. Everyone needs to stop getting it twisted

      May 13, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  5. sir_ken_g

    Just another hateful preacher hiding behind a thin veil of religion. Offerings down?

    May 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  6. tim

    I laugh at you all, you talk about chistianity, yet you read other books instead of the bible. Why can you not understand it.
    Yet when someone dies you all go to a funeral at church and the minister says he is saved. yet he made his own choices in life, like reading every other book except the bible. Why can he not understand the bible. Cause maybe it is not men for him or her. Cause his or her own actions deny it. But instead seaching for wisdom, they listen everything what the pastor says without even trying to read it or searching wisdom themselves. i call this lazyness. if death is importnat to you would you not want to know what it means. this is why few people will make it to heavon.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • sir_ken_g

      ...nor will you BECAUSE THERE IS NO HEAVEN.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      I doubt he'll make it into any spiritually exclusive club even if there IS an afterlife.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  7. gaysome

    Bob+Rick+Denise= A gay 3sum!

    May 13, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  8. Donaize

    Responding to Doc Ock – my remarks where made in reference to the president remarking that he was a practicing Christian – whic is inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible which is the basis for Christians –

    May 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Howard


      May 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Yes, liberal Christianity is a mix of Christianity and human secularism, which is not compatible. It shows that YOU are God and that if God doesn't agree with your value system, either He shouldn't be sovereign or the Bible just somehow got it wrong. These people cherry-pick from the Bible and what we know to be the values of the Bible.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  9. chosen2

    SODOM = a sign of the last day! It is according to God's word. Watch and pray for the day of wrath is at hand that you be found in Christ as one of His chosen people; a chosen sinner trusting in Christ alone for the salvation of the soul.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      Fear mongering claptrap. Your ancient book of myths has no power over enlightened thinking individuals. But keep on praying...sounds like you need it to make any sense of your horrid worldview.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  10. JNEUH

    SO BLACKS WILL BE AGAINST ALL GAYS BUT FOR ANY BLACK RUNNING FOR OFFICE OVER ANY WHITE.? So blacks can't accept gays.... got it.. And they will all vote for Obama regardless on his issue because he is the same race. They are the biggest racists. They don't care what he does as long as he stays black.. great thinking brothers

    May 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  11. Donaize

    The point is all about not embracing one's sins – one can love a sinner but not embrace their sin – that is what is Biblical.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  12. Donaize

    The point the president and his wife miss entirely is that God does expect us to love one another BUT while we love a sinner we are NOT to embrace the sin – he will find this in his Bible.
    This isn't an issue about civil rights – it's all about what God expects of us as Christians –

    May 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Doc Ock

      there are millions of Americans who ARE NOT CHRISTIANS!! You have NO right to impose your religious beliefs on ANYONE ELSE!! Is that not why we are fighting terrorists???

      May 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • scoobypoo

      except that your bible is just a bunch of stories with no basis in fact or truth and thus your point is without merit

      May 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • sir_ken_g

      As soon as someone starts quoting the bible you know there is no fact to it.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Mat

      @Scoobypoo. Really? Have you ever tried to find if it was the truth or not. Obvious your mind is closed. Unless you use the brain God has given, you will always wallow in ignorance.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  13. Say it ain't so

    I really wish Obama loses the presidency. I really do

    May 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  14. Ricke1949

    A lot of theophobics on this site.

    May 13, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Edwin

      That's consistent... most sites encourage negative posting more than positive posting.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      intolerance of intolerance is a good thing.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • g.c.kells

      AtheistSteve- No it's not, it's just a convenient way to justify religious bigotry. I decided long ago that I didn't believe in God, though I still consider myself a Quaker. The process of discernment brought me to a different conclusion than many of my friends, but they are still my friends. Not all faith is intolerant, and not all intolerance stems from faith. It's arrogant and bigoted to think your faith that god doesn't exist is more valid than your neighbors faith that he does.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  15. Nick G

    I find it amazing that these black ministers who have experienced discrimination through their whole lives cannot see that this issue is also one of discrimination. They expect people to stand up for them when they are discriminated against, but they find no problem with discriminating against gays and lesbians. They should be embarrassed.

    If it comes down to a Christian issue, here is what Jesus has said on this subject: " ..........". Nothing...

    May 13, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      The Germans did not discriminate against the Nazi. They were tolerant and that is how Hitler got to power.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Doc Ock

      Re-read your History Nick

      May 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      This comment obviously came from a nonChristian. No, Jesus didnt comment on every details of everything....but he said numerous times that he was upholding the laws put forth in the OT. That said, the idea was just not to keep the law above mercy...not to diminish the sin and not call it one. That is not Christianity at all!

      May 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      Also, your history is lacking. Christianity didnt come from Europe, but from the Middle East.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  16. OhPleaseYerKillinMeSTOP

    This "war on christianity" baloney is just pederast priests and embezzling adulterous ministers seeing their cash flow slipping away with increasing education and recognition of their hate-fear-power-based anti-science fraud. Tax churches as the commercial revenue generators they are and lift that immense portion of municipal infrastructure support from individual homeowners.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • GauisCaesar

      The war on Christianity can be seen almost everywhere in America. The war is not neccesarily on Christianity but the value system on the religion. It is a push from secular humanists to be able to decide your own value system. It is used against Christians as bigotry and hatred. Evidence of this can be found on CNN, MSNBC, most prime time tv shows (like Law & Order), and most other shows on tv. It is a progressive war. They media only shows conservatives as haters like Westboro Baptist and liberal (nonBilblical) pastors as being the best of the bunch.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  17. Ricke1949

    2= Good
    3 =better
    4 or more = best

    May 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  18. Amy

    Rick, because you are a D I C K

    Only the law says you can't. Some of us don't care who you marry and long as your inbred A S S stays out of my family.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • rick

      Amy you are being intolerant to me 🙁 Lean Forward with me.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      Trash talking is very rude and crude. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  19. jdoe

    Intolerance is not limited to one race.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  20. rick

    So why can't we marry 3 people together too. I love two women and they love me and Bob? OK then why can't we marry 4 people? While were at it I love my dog two women and Bob lets all get married yea 🙂

    May 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Sing along!

      we are family...

      May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Tom

      I would seriously doubt 4, 2 or even one woman would want to marry such a narrow minded person such as yourself. You probably think women should be kept barefoot and pregnant at home making your dinner while you go out and use your assault rifle to kill deer while drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon with the rest of your beer gut friends.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Doc Ock

      Mitt is a mormon Rick...i'm sure he totally approves of your idea.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.